El Salvador Investigates both Sets of Gang Truce Negotiators

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El Salvador’s attorney general has confirmed that his office is investigating the actions of both sets of negotiators in the country’s gang truce, suggesting there will be no more semi-official attempts at mediation with gangs under the new administration.

Speaking in an interview with La Prensa Grafica, Luis Martinez said he believed the recent arrest of gang mediator Father Antonio Rodriguez would mark the beginning of revelations of illegality in the truce process set up by the priest and then-Security Minister Ricardo Perdomo, and that the investigation could extend to the role of Perdomo himself.

Martinez added that his office is also looking into the initial negotiations between the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) and Barrio 18 gangs initiated by Perdomo’s predecessor David Mungia Payes, along with former congressman Raul Mijango and Bishop Fabio Colindres, but that the investigation is taking longer as the case is “much more complicated and runs much deeper.”

Labeling the rival processes “Hypocritical Truce 1” and “Hypocritical Truce 2,” Martinez told La Prensa Grafica that both sets of negotiations were facilitated by “people who are not transparent and sincere.”

The new attorney general also condemned the results of the truce process.

“The famous truce was never in favor of the people, it was against the people,” he said. “[The gangs] never stopped extorting, they never ceased bringing pain and grief to our country — and so there was a mistake there.”

InSight Crime Analysis

One of the main reasons for the breakdown of El Salvador’s gang truce — which led to a huge drop in murders after it came into force in March 2012 — was the arrival of Ricardo Perdomo to the Security Ministry. Perdomo moved quickly to shut down channels of communication for imprisoned gang leaders and sidelined the initial negotiating team, while allowing Rodriguez, known locally as Padre Toño, to begin his own mediation process.

With the incoming Salvadoran government so far publicly ambivalent on gang negotiations, the arrest of Rodriguez raised suspicions that the new administration might favor the initial negotiators in any future mediations.

However, Martinez’s comments suggest that the Attorney General’s Office is going after all groups involved in the controversial truce process. These investigations likely spell the end of any semi-official attempts to broker agreements between the gangs.

By giving unofficial backing to the initial process, the previous government was able to maintain a politically expedient distance, but left the truce in a legal gray area. Negotiators will be unlikely to get involved if they feel that they risk prosecution, leaving the government with two options; a fully official mediation process, which would be a hard sell given the unpopularity of the idea with the electorate, or abandoning all attempts to negotiate with gangs.

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